Human beings can't live alone

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a topic that is very interesting to be analyzed, despite the fact that this hypothesis is contradicted by most of other experts. This essay tries to emphasize how far a language would construct the reality, and take some facts of the community that I belong to, and what is the relation with the facts and Sapir's hypothesis.

Sapir argued that : We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. (Sapir 1958 [1929], p. 69). Looking at the statement above, that inferred that thoughts and behavior are mostly influenced by language. From this statement, first we have to look back the root of the language itself. Saussure (Saussure, 1966, pp. 7 - 9) wrote a question about how to define a language, and gave an answer to this as social product of the faculty of speech and a collection of necessary conventions that have been adopted by a social body to permit individuals to exercise that faculty. From his writing, it is clear that language is a part of internalization of a community, and including the function itself as a communication media. So, it is clear that words, sentence, and eventually language act as a bridge for the interaction of the human in a community. Another question that arise in this is that in which community can we use a language. We can say that the community is a form of interaction between language, culture, and mind. Language is a fundamental form of the culture, and vice versa.

After looking at the definition of the language itself, we can go back to the hypothesis from Sapir. How far can we understand different interpretation of an object and how we communicate its definition with the world. It comes to the conclusion of the need of interpretation of communication and culture. So we have to do a reverse thinking about the definition of a culture, community, and the socio activities that human can use inside it. Take a case of the community that I belong to. A study community in Germany, that the people inside it use a same language, which is German. How a person can interact with the solid community that use a same language, and how a person could blend into this community. Some difficulties will eventually arise, because of the background from different communities that is forced to be merged into one "bowl" that we call an education port. Different people from different cultures want to fit in this bowl, and expected to share a same vision, which is eventually to get a degree. Back to the definition of a community : A community is a collection of people (or animals) who interact together with the same environment, and it exist everywhere in the nature. From people to penguins, monkeys to meerkats. Grouping is a touch of simplicity as a means of describing community (Bacon, 2009, p. 4).

From the previous definitions, we can say that language is an important part of building a culture and community. What if the language differ in a community, would the translation of a language will become a problem, and would the different interpretation because the difference of language would build different interpretation and feels of an occasion that occurred? Rumana Quazi, from Media Culture and Mind class of RWTH-Aachen, mentioned that Sapir?s hypothesis is to some extent correct. She said that it would probably correct for some cases only. She think that Sapir?s hypothesis would be correct, but if it is implemented on the previous years when the hypothesis was created. It is not relevant if it is implemented now. I also agree to her opinion. Thomas L. Friedman wrote about his opinion about three different term of globalization, 1.0, in which countries and governments were the main protagonists, the globalization 2.0, in which multinational companies led the way in driving global integration, and eventually globalization 3.0, the era of convergence (Friedman, 2005). If the need of communication between different cultural people is not possible as Sapir had said, which is in fact is easily enabled by the high speed data transfer communication, how come the development of the world itself nowadays goes exponentially. Nowadays, because of the introduction of Internet and personal computer, we can talk to people in different time, different language with a very small delays. We indeed can still deliver the message although the difference of the language itself. With technologies, we can even have an online dictionaries that we can easily carry everyday. So if we have a difficulty in expressing our idea, we can use these online dictionaries. However, I also think that for some particular objects and occasion, we cannot use the translation. For instance, Sharad, also from the Media Culture and Mind class, give an example of the naming of a specific year that only exist in India. He thinks that he cannot translate it, so he has to give a direct definition for this without doing any translation of it.

Sharad think that the difference of language does not give any problems to the communication as long as there is a bridge between these two languages. He mentioned an example of the most popular language in the world, which is English. If the speaker is fluent, they can still express particular things and to share the same thoughts. This is the case of Sharad, who I think also used English in his daily live in India. Nevertheless, this language bridge still give a big hole for me, because I come from Indonesia. The Indonesian people only use Indonesian language everyday, and English (or even German) are only popular for those who have a proper education. So for me, the language bridge is not fully build, because of the fluency level that differs between one country and another. So in my opinion, Sapir is not fully correct in observing this problem.

To this extent, we can say that indeed Sapir?s hypothesis can only be implemented in some things. Now for the view of realities that construct the language. So what if the problem of differences in the language can be solved by using a bridge language, like English. According to Sapir-Whorf, language is an integral part of human, and language shape a human?s way of thinking ( I could not fully agree with this statement, because we have to realize that the way we think is not fully determined by language, or vice-versa, but instead, it influence each other. Take an example of different interpretation of language itself, and eventually how people interpret the meaning behind the words. For instance, the Germans have different meaning for "ein Freund von mir" and "mein Freund". If we translate this word by word to other language, such as English, both have the same meaning, which is "my friend". However, this is actually different meaning. It is used in different context, one for our couple, and the other is just regular friend. In Indonesia, we use different verb to describe this condition. If we see also the context of culture itself, we would have different interpretation of sentences. For instance, once I had an experience using different language (in this case German) to get a package in post office. After thinking that I have done all procedure, I took the package on the table. However, the lady which was in charge on me, suddenly said "nicht so schnell!" which means in English "not so fast". This is for some reason , I considered as rude because in my culture, people don?t say "not so fast" but instead "please wait for a moment". Different language make different interpretation and meaning. This is support Sapir?s hypothesis, because the way that she speak, does not support the way I perceive because of the difference in language. This question also asked by Anna Wierzbicka, who found out the relation between emotion and culture (Wierzbicka, 1992). Emotion is a point that support by Sapir?s hypothesis. Anna Wierzbicka also mentioned an example from Australian Aborigin language, Gidjingali, that does not distinguish fear? and shame?. Obviouslly, in different cultures and different societies, people talk with different ways. If we observe these differences, we can take the value which is kept inside a specific community, that has different social-values. However, of course that there are some ways of expressing emotions that is cross-cultural, and we can express exactly our feeling in other language. This is showing a minor flaw of Sapir?s hypothesis.

According to Donald Davidson, the utility of referring to meanings of an expression e that we expressed by using e1 will make an ambiguous definition. To focus on the the mind as the representation of language, we have to think whether thoughts is relevance with language. Devitt and Sterelny think that thoughts is a form of Inner representations (Devitt & Sterelny, 1999). If language is a form of thought, how can we define the thoughts itself. Does that mean, that children who started to speak several words, or even some people who have difficulties in articulating the words does not have the same way of perceiving reality? Does that mean that they do not have a normal way of expressing thoughts and also to express their inner self? I think that is true. If we look back again to the words of Devitt and Sterelny, that thoughts is a form of inner representations, it makes a simple relationship between thoughts and perception. The reason for this is that because a person having a difficulty in expressing the words, that means that the brain also having a difficulty to work optimally. In other word, the way these people perceive reality is not the same like the normal people. For example, some people who is diagnosed with slow learning ability, that means that for specific stage, they could not understand the definitions of words and sentences, and also eventually, perceiving reality. Still according to Devitt and Sterelny, who use the term of :Mentalese", a person tends to translate Mentalese into English and they understands English by doing the reverse. So Sapir should have taken into account how the brain works. How the brain consider of how different language would effect the meaning of an entity (object or occasion). This opinion is also proved by Aubrey L. Gilbert, Terry Regier, Paul Kay, and Richard B. Ivry, who did an experiment and conclude that Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left. Another point that I want to share regarding the language and the brain, according to Rumana Quazi, who contradict with the basic idea of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, think that language is just a small part of mean that drive our thoughts. In this case, she thinks that language can be achieved by a process, and procedures. I agree with her idea, especially after she gave a brilliant example for an infant who still not learned to talk. Indeed, as the time goes by, a children could learn to talk, and they do a process of thinking to achieve the goal, which is talking. Again, this is a minor flaw of Saphir?s hypothesis, that a person could point out one by one.

The relations between culture, language, and societies is very complicated, because these things bond one and another. So as conclusion, we can say that there is a strong connection between language, culture, and societies. These relations occurred in a long period of time, and it occurred not just two ways, but multiple ways. Saphir theorem is not fully correct for today?s societies, because of the technologies and other languages that solve the communication problems, although we have to admit that for some specific objects and also for some specific occations Saphir?s hypothesis still occurres.


  • Aubrey L. Gilbert, Terry Regier, Paul Kay, and Richard B. Ivry, "Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left", PNAS, vol. 103, 489-494, January 10, 2006. Accessed December 20,2009
  • Bacon, J. (2009). The Art of Community. Canada: O'Reilly.
  • Devitt, M., & Sterelny, K. (1999). Thought and Meaning. In Language and Reality (pp. 137 - 140). Cornwall: Blackwell.
  • Ernest, L., & Kirk, L. (2005). The Introduction of a Truth Theory as the Vehicle of a Meaning Theory. In
  • Donald Davidson - Meaning, Truth, Language, and Reality (p. 63). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Friedman, T. L. (2005). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Saussure, F. d. (1966). Chapter III - The Object Of Linguistic. In F. d. Saussure, Course in General Linguistic (pp. 7 - 9). New York: McGraw-Hill.
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  • Wierzbicka, A. (1992). Semantics, Culture, and Cognition. New York: Oxford University Press.

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